Morgan Freeman won an Oscar in 2005 for his role in Million Dollar Baby, the culmination of an impressive run of performances in films including Driving Miss Daisy, Glory, Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption, Seven, Kiss The Girls and Under Suspicion.
In The Bucket List he co-stars with Jack Nicholson, with both men playing patients diagnosed with terminal cancer who resolve to seize the day and fulfil a wish list of long cherished dreams.
Did you know Jack Nicholson before working with him on The Bucket List?
“I’d watched just about every movie he did after Easy Rider, so I knew him but we weren’t hanging out buddies. We’d met each other, you know how life goes particularly with performers, you wind up in the same place often enough. We know each other anyway, actors know actors, you meet an actor it’s not like meeting a total stranger.”
Was your approach to your roles similar?
“We probably approached the material pretty much the same way in that you memorise it and then you do it. Jack, however, works the script. He makes notes, he changes words, he does things to it and then asks how it sounds. You don’t really have to do research to create a character. You have to do research to recreate a character. By that I mean if I’m going to play you then I have to do some research. I have to study nuance in the things that make you you. But if you just write a character and I’ve got to do it I don’t have to go somewhere and sit and figure out how to manifest that character. There are actors who have diverse, shall we say, ways of approaching their work. Some have to immerse themselves in experience. By that I mean when I did The Shawshank Redemption there were actors who went and stayed in jail to get that feeling. That’s mind altering stuff, and I don’t think it informs you. I don’t think you’re going to learn anything.”
Is it more a question of having a good imagination then?
“Well, let’s say you’re playing a character on a ship. It helps if you know a little bit about it. A little research there would help, I think. Maybe if you were driving a race car it would help to drive one to get the feel of how you handle a race car. Things like that. But just normal character development, I think that just comes with practice and you start practicing very early in life. I look at people and right away I start summing them up. It’s not like I can tell you what kind of character you are, but I get a sense of you.”
Was your Bucket List character, Carter Chambers, difficult character to get under the skin of?
“No, like I said before, difficult characters are real people. I don’t think any other character that you agree to do is difficult. I don’t think you agree to do it because it’s difficult. If it’s difficult you say ‘I don’t think I can handle this, because I can’t see it,’.”
Would that be because the script wasn’t quite right?
“You can’t say that because the script that I say I can’t do, you give to the actor who says he can do it and he takes it to the Academy Awards. In my case I’m talking about knowing your limitations in terms of your performance.”
You’ve spoken before of having a great focus, is that something you’ve had throughout your career?
“I think it’s one of the things that has defined me as a person, all my life. This ability to focus. But it’s short term. I just recently took up golf, and nothing else is on my mind most of the time but golf. If I ever get good at it, and I won’t, then I’ll move on to something else. So I can rest assured that I’m going to be with golf for the rest of my life because I’m never going to master it. That’s not something you can master.”
So why take it up then?
“I took it up because I’m a pilot, I fly small airplanes. I started realising that in travelling and flying from home – I live in Mississippi – to LA or to New York, I’m sitting still for hours at a time. Two or three hours. And I’m not active enough to do that without some compensation. What I mean by that is at this age – I took up flying at 65 – sitting this long in one place you’ve got to start worrying about blood clots in your legs. It all just pooling right under your thighs there and not getting to move around enough. So my business partner said ‘why don’t we take up golf?’ and I said ‘something else,’ Then after a while I thought ‘maybe golf,’ So as soon as I said that he went out and bought all the stuff, somebody gave me a set of clubs and there it was. And once I started there it was. If you can get past the first week or so of trying you’re pretty much hooked. I love it.”
Your success as an actor did not come immediately; in hindsight do you think that was a good thing?
“Well of course, because that’s what happened. Of course I think it served me well, but who knows? What happens with life, life is what happens, it’s for the best. Knowing my character it’s probably good that it waited a while before I got to a certain level of success.”
“I’m experimental. There are very few women I say no to, things like that, I could wind up in deep trouble.”
Is it true we’re going to see you play Nelson Mandela soon?
“The rumour is true; I was originally set to Long Walk To Freedom, which is his based on his autobiography. That never quite came to fruition because we never got a script after ten years of trying. But another script has come along about the rugby match between the Springboks and New Zealand, the All Blacks. A great, great script. I’m going to play him, it’s called The Human Factor, and we should go into production around October. I’m looking forward to that. I’ve met him on numerous occasions.”
Finally, and to echo a theme of The Bucket List, is it ever too late for anything?
“There’s one moment in your life when it’s too late, and that’s when it’s your last gasp.”